Lessons in the Feminine Genius and the Story Behind My Ministry | Amanda Zurface

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“The feminine genius” is a loaded expression. There are thesis, papal documents, books, video series, and entire organizations committed to educating and forming people on the topic. Simply put, it can take a lifetime and beyond to grasp the feminine genius and what it means for each woman’s life.

In this “Letter’s to Women” podcast, founded and hosted by Chloe Langr, you’ll hear me speak to my current understanding of what the feminine genius means and how I try, imperfectly, every day to respond to it in my own life. Along with this, we discuss prayer, spiritual direction, canon law, conversion, the December release of my e-book, and practical tips for seeking joy right now, including a spiritual gratitude novena!

Check out the audio, or read my notes below! And let me know how you’ve come to understand the feminine genius as you live it out, Joy Seeker!

Q: Can you tell us about your story as a Catholic woman?

A: Well, to start with the basics, I am a 33-year-old single Catholic woman, striving to be faithful to God.

My story of faith really began in 8th grade. Through the tragedy of the suicide of someone close to me, I saw a priest’s witness. I wanted what he was offering, and that was Jesus! We all have initial conversions or “ah-ha” moments, and this was my first big one. We have daily conversions, but this was the first time I went “all in” as they say…

From that moment on, I did everything I could to get involved in the Church and learn more. But I was in my 20’s when I really grew in intimacy with God; through prayer, retreats, pilgrimages, friends, mentors, and spiritual directors. 

I studied theology and social justice in college. Then canon law in graduate school. 

I have served the Church in different capacities on the parish, diocesan level and at the Holy See to the United Nations. I write Catholic content for faith-based organizations, including full-time for Covenant Eyes.

As a Catholic woman, I have felt privileged to serve in these roles. And live out my feminine genius in this work Jesus has given me.

Q: You’re a Canon Lawyer, which is a title that I mostly hear associated with Catholic priests. Can you tell me about how you discerned earning a degree in Canon Law, and what practicing Canon Law looks like as a layperson? 

A: Yes, typically, when individuals think of canon lawyers, they think of 70-year-old monsignors, right? And that’s often the right image. However, it’s becoming more and more common for laypeople to study canon law. 

When I studied in Rome, there were only three women in my classes. By the time I finished my studies in Canada, I think there were five of us…two being religious sisters. 

So, as I said, I studied theology and social justice in college, thinking I would go on to study diplomacy. 

I spent a semester abroad in Rome during my sophomore year of undergraduate studies when a canon lawyer priest encouraged me to consider studying canon law if I wanted to work for the Holy See in some capacity at the United Nations. At the time, I still had no full knowledge of what canon law was.

I returned home to the United States and was encouraged by two more canon lawyers to consider it. God often works through people and events. This time he worked through people: canonists! 

At the end of my undergraduate studies, I knew God was allowing me to study canon law. So, I pursued it and moved to Rome. I studied there for two and a half years and finished my licentiate in Ottawa. 

Since receiving my licentiate in 2013, I have been serving directly on the diocesan and parish level and in faith-based organizations, helping individuals and organizations on canon law topics. 

Q: You offer spiritual direction for people who are looking for a new prayer routine, discerning their vocation, struggling with living the virtue of chastity, and wanting to invest in their physical and spiritual health. Spiritual direction is a term that isn’t often heard outside of Catholic circles. For those who are just now encountering the concept of spiritual direction, can you explain more about what spiritual direction is, and how it can help Catholics grow in their relationship with the Lord? 

A: Spiritual direction is an incredible gift the Church has given to us! It became popular (for all Vocations) after the Second Vatican Council when the idea, “Universal Call to Holiness,” emerged: meaning that everyone is called to a life of holiness, not only priests and religious. 

Spiritual direction is something I believe everyone should consider (all states in life). It is an intimate journey of accompaniment with someone you’ve selected who has shown himself/herself to be mature in the Catholic faith and is seeking holiness. 

The director is someone to help you listen to God on whatever question you have brought to spiritual direction. The question meaning, what are you looking for/asking of God? Examples include: 

  • What is my vocation? 
  • How do I find healing?
  • How do I live God’s design for my body and in my current vocation?
  • How do I know God loves me?

In the context of spiritual direction, you receive so much. I can’t speak well enough of it primarily because of the benefits I have received from my journey with spiritual direction. You receive encouragement; affirmations; and challenges that are accompanied by growth. Accountability is very present, too: accountability to consistent prayer and participation in the sacraments. 

If you stick with spiritual direction and receive it regularly (I recommend once a month), it can be shocking the growth you will see in your own life. 

Q: I’ve been in spiritual direction with a priest (actually a Canon Lawyer!) and with a lay woman, a mom at my parish. What’s it like offering spiritual direction as a lay person? What unique perspectives and experiences do you bring into spiritual direction that may be different from spiritual direction with someone in religious life? 

A: It’s a very privileged space; to walk with a directee to hear God’s voice in their lives encourages them and challenges them to be a saint! Which, at the same time, calls me as the director on to seek the life of sainthood. It’s extremely humbling. 

As a single woman still discerning my vocation, I think the women who journey with me, especially those who are also discerning their vocations, find it consoling that I am in the same place. I am a peer while also being their director. But always on a professional level.  

I really do hope it is consoling for those who feel they don’t have their “stuff” figured out; since I am in the same boat seeking to “set out into the deep” (Lk 5:4) as well. 

Q: I’ve loved reading through your blog and website, and one of my favorite aspects of your writing is that it includes topics like Canon Law, spiritual direction, and discernment, but also posts about healthy living, good food, and how to make a good mixed drink. Why is it important that we live an integrated life as Catholic women – a life that includes holy and wholesome conversations about our spiritual and our physical health? 

A: I laughed with a friend the other day about going on dates with men who only talk about religious topics. We were wondering how to be gentle in saying, I’d like to talk about other things than religion. Can we talk about football?! LOL

But in all seriousness. To be healthy, we need to be well rounded and integrated. God made us body-soul persons. And God created us to have fun! My own spiritual director always encourages me to get out of the house, have fun, “lookup” and enjoy beauty in all its forms, including the outdoors, good food, and drinks in moderation.

A great quote that goes along with this:

“Enjoy yourself as much as you like – if only you keep from sin.”
– St. John Bosco

So, again we aren’t just souls. God entrusted a body to us as well. And how we take care of our bodies impacts our souls. The way we live out our spirituality affects our bodies. We can feel it in our muscles, moods, how we sleep, appetite and cravings, everything! 

Q: You write beautifully about the topic of joy – finding it in our daily lives as well as seeking it in our relationships and prayer life. You also wrote a brand new e-book, “Seeking Joy: Finding God’s Will in Ordinary Life,” – can you tell me about the inspiration behind the book and what readers will find inside? 

A: Thank you. I am so excited about the e-book. It’s on pre-order right now and will publish on December 12: the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

As you said, it’s on the topic of joy: true joy.

I call the ladies (my spiritual directees and the women who approach me for assistance with canon law inquiries), “Joy Seekers!” 

We can confuse joy with what the world tells us it is, but in the e-book I jump into the topic with the mindset of the Church and look at joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, revealing that joy isn’t happiness; it’s something so much deeper that comes with suffering and sacrifice. I look at the lives of the Saints, the topics of death and mourning, and how, overall, when we align our lives with God’s will for our individual lives, we open ourselves up to the gift of joy!

Q: For women who are listening to us talk about finding joy – especially right now with all the turmoil in the world – what are some practical tips and pieces of advice you’d give for finding joy and peace in our daily lives as Catholic women? 

A: To make it more simple, we can ask, how do I find God right now in this odd season of life for all of us? I want to suggest three things.

When I guide women on the principles of discernment, I explain that to get anywhere in discernment we must first have a right understanding of who God is. What kind of a God is he? 

We have to know that he is not a God who wants bad things for us. He doesn’t will COVID, death, loneliness, addiction…

So first, I  want to encourage our listeners to reflect on the goodness and generosity of God. To do this, some of our listeners may want to take on a nine-day novena. Instead of pondering future goals, take nine days to consider God’s goodness and how he’s pouring into your life. Write these down for nine days and offer a prayer of gratitude at the end of your reflection time. 

Gratitude will help us reorient our hearts, especially as we’re overwhelmed with so much negative news these days. 

Second, again, God is a God of generosity, and we are made in his image. When we know our identity, we have peace. We are made to give of ourselves. In giving of ourselves, we truly do find ourselves as they say. 

So, I encourage all of us to find new ways to give of ourselves in this season. That will look different for each one of us, depending on our Vocation. 

Maybe this will include ordering groceries for your roommate if you see she’s getting low. It could mean that you will encourage your husband to get out of the house for the afternoon and do something he enjoys. Maybe you’ll donate disinfectant wipes to your church. Be a playmate for your niece or nephews once a week (this is actually a big one for me). These weird times really do call for creativity. The key is not to let the stay-at-home culture keep you from giving of yourself. 

And lastly, Fr. Mike Schmitz recently had a great video on how COVID is bringing out a fear that’s possibly always been there for us… a fear of death. I want to encourage anyone listening to watch this video. I have a blog post about it titled: “Breaking through our fears.” He urges: “Wash your hands, but wash them in hope.” We need to be prudent, but we are people of hope. We have much more beyond this life where we will experience the fullness of joy. 

Q: Where can listeners connect with you online and learn more about your work as a spiritual director and your new e-book, “Seeking Joy: Finding God’s Will in Ordinary Life”?

A: I love connecting on Instagram! Also, email is great. And I have a website as well: amandazurface.com. 

Q: How do you live out the feminine genius in daily life as a woman who’s helping others navigate different seasons of life with joy? 

A: One of my favorite books I discovered back in 2010 when I was studying in Rome is titled: “Man and Woman: A Divine Invention” by Alice von Hildebrand with the foreword by Fr. Benedict Groeschel. If women are looking for an introduction to the feminine genius, it’s the perfect little book. 

Alice says that a woman fulfills her mission, not through exterior accomplishments but prayer, sacrifice, and love. So much can be said about this. 

But, it’s humbling reflecting on how I am personally living this out. 

I tell my directees that I do pray for them. So often, we can say we will pray for someone and don’t do it. But I make a commitment to pray for the ladies I journey with. 

To be a spiritual director, you commit yourself to pursue a life of holiness. It’s true that you can’t give what you don’t have. This involves being receptive to God and his plans. Every day I try to say yes to God and his plans for my life; I do this imperfectly, but every day I get up and renew my effort to live for him again and again. And this does involve both sacrifice and love. 

I’m probably most well known as a canon lawyer and Catholic writer. Here on my website, though, you can find everything from travel advice, prayer guides, book recommendations, spiritual direction, workouts, garden tips, food and drink recipes, and the opportunity to partner with me on things that are important to you. 

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